A crowd is a force of nature. And in Ethiopia, it’s a mighty one!
So (assuming you’re white like me) try dropping down from the sky under a colorful piece of fabric in any rural Ethiopian area, where the locals have rarely, or never, seen a white person, never mind a paraglider(!), and watch what happens! They get excited, too much sometimes, and hundreds come running from all directions, encircling the alien, everybody wanting a peek at him, so they all push forward for a better look, the circle naturally tightens, thicker, tighter, it all happens quickly, until they’re almost stepping on your glider, almost falling over you and your equipment, and they probably would if it’s not for the few adults of authority – some always show up, your saviours – who keep the circle open just enough for you to fold and quickly walk away. With threatening (but never really used) branches, sticks, whips and guns, those figures of authority defend you so you can make your boisterous escape, leading the procession of young people shouting, laughing, sometimes trying on you the three or four English phrases that they know: “Hello!”, “What’s your name?”, “Where you come?”, etc.
Like strong wind, it’s an intense experience, somewhat unpredictable, sometimes overwhelming. Once it even frightened us – we were already walking away when the crowd got too excited, too big, too unruly even for our adult guardians, and for some reason some kids started throwing small rocks at us, while others were asking for my sunglasses, and for money; then I saw a blur (it was a short stick) fly from behind past my head and strike the guardian to my right – his white hat got a stain of blood… We found refuge in the local police station.
But generally it’s a beautiful, colorful, well-meaning sea of people in these crowds, young and radiant with energy – and how I miss them now – the epitome of what we’ve lost, and what I crave now, alone at home, and staring at the sky. I miss flying away and landing somewhere new and meeting the new people there with smiling faces not hidden behind masks. Dear cross country, I promise, we’ll all be back.